weed-fighting natives, with ‘wildscape’ writer nancy lawson

WHEN I SPOKE to naturalist and nature author Nancy Lawson just lately about her adventures in wildscaping at her Maryland backyard, there was one matter specifically I wished to double again to and dig in deeper to: her ways for preventing undesirable weeds and invasives as we loosen up elements of our landscapes with extra native vegetation.

I wished to be taught extra about give the specified vegetation the sting, together with among the native perennials which have confirmed to be Nancy’s allies in out-competing the undesirables.

Nancy Lawson is writer of “The Humane Gardener” and extra just lately of “Wildscape.” In that guide, she stresses that we’re not alone on the market, and promotes animal-friendly planting and upkeep methods. She helps us tune into everybody whose house it’s via a mixture of findings from scientific analysis and her personal intimate moments of discovery spent making her personal wildscape.

Learn alongside as you hearken to the June 12, 2023 version of my public-radio present and podcast utilizing the participant beneath. You may subscribe to all future editions on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) or Spotify or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts right here).

weed-fighting natives, with nancy lawson



Margaret Roach: Thanks for coming again to speak to me once more, Nancy. A lot appreciated.

Nancy Lawson: Thanks for having me. It’s nice, and that is one in all my favourite subjects too.

Margaret: You want weeds, huh?

Nancy: I like native weeds.

Margaret: O.Okay. Yeah, as a result of I’ve simply gotten previous having a backyard open day. And so it’s type of the spring drill of getting the backyard, whether or not you’re actually having guests or not, however getting the backyard open—mulched, and cleaned up and no matter, no matter. And now it’s time, and I wager lots of people are in the identical boat. It’s prefer it’s time to double again and combat among the larger fights that I do know all of us face in a single spot or one other in our gardens [laughter]. All of us have one thing. However what are a few of your challenges there at your house? You may have a few acres, similar-sized place that I do, and also you’ve been there a very long time. What are a few of your fixed undesirable companions?

Nancy: Yeah. Effectively, the stiltgrass [MIcrostegium vimineum] is one in all them, as a result of it likes to come back up. It could make itself at house in tiny little pockets at just about anyplace. However one other one which I just lately had a really profitable little battle in opposition to was mugwort.

Margaret: Oh, sure.

Nancy: Yeah. We inherited mugwort with some heirloom asparagus that my husband’s grandfather had in his backyard, and my mother-in-law gave us some, and I had a sense it was going to come back with mugwort, and it did, and we didn’t handle it. And so it grew to become a 30-foot by 10-foot house of mugwort after a time [laughter].

Margaret: Sure, sure. And that’s an Artemisia, isn’t it [Artemisia vulgaris]? I feel. Isn’t it?

Nancy: Yeah.

Margaret: Yeah, so it’s a perennial Artemisia, and it’s rhizomatous I suppose, is that appropriate additionally?

Nancy: Yeah. So there’s these massive orange-rooted mats when it actually will get going. And I’ve had it somewhere else the place there are already a number of vegetation, and in these locations it’s very simple to simply pull. However this was a spot we had particularly dug out for asparagus, and never put a lot different issues. And it was at all times simply my very last thing to get to as a result of there was a lot else to do. And every time I might attempt, there have been a number of ladybugs in there.

After which one yr I seen that there have been walnut timber arising in it, and there have been black raspberries that really actually gave the impression to be competing with it. And in order that gave me some encouragement. These have been my shiny spots to start out from. And I suppose it was proper earlier than the pandemic once I began simply taking it on for actual. And I did a mix of smothering it with cardboard and wooden chips after which additionally… However I don’t need to simply do this as a result of then stuff comes proper again, you realize?

So I additionally began planting different issues that grew in the same manner, like Jerusalem artichoke, mountain mint [Pycnanthemum], these items that would actually take over the bottom within the shady half, the golden ragwort, the robin’s plantain [fleabane, Erigeron pulchellus], and these different issues that will actually both shade out germination of the mugwort seeds or compete immediately with the roots.

Margaret: And so how did you sort of determine that out? Have you learnt what I imply? Did you simply observe who was doing a superb job elsewhere? The place do you get that sort of perception?

Nancy: So I began simply this type of material, I suppose in all probability about 12 or 13 years in the past once I had garlic mustard loads in a sure space. And I left some vegetation out of golden ragwort [Packera aurea], and I used to be going to provide them to pals. After which I got here again the next spring. This was within the fall, I suppose I had dug them up, and I discovered that that they had rooted out of the pots and into the golden ragwort and noticed they have been competing with it.

After which I discovered about vegetation like clearweed [above, as a groundcover at Nancy’s; detail at Margaret’s below], that really there’s been analysis exhibiting that they’re… They will immediately compete with garlic mustard chemically.

Margaret: That’s an awesome plant, Pilea pumila. It’s an awesome plant, and folks assume it’s a weed as a result of it has that “weed” suffix in its frequent title, however it’s an necessary… For sure moths or butterflies, I imagine it’s a bunch plant, and it’s an awesome plant.

Nancy: It’s stunning.

Margaret: So it’s fascinating to listen to that it additionally has scientifically confirmed potential to assist us with most of these issues.

Clearweedm or Pilea pumilaNancy: Yeah, it will probably go head-to-head. And so I suppose seeing that type of analysis makes you surprise, effectively, what different vegetation can do that?

Margaret: I see.

Nancy: And clearly the ragwort can do it, after which excited about not simply their chemical properties, however their progress habits. And one of many causes that the ragwort does it, at the least the place I reside, is that it’s additionally often fairly evergreen. And so it’s competing in all probability not solely chemically, however it additionally has this potential to leaf out earlier than the rest, or already be leafed out, relying on the place you reside. And so it will probably shade out germination of the garlic mustard seed.

Margaret: Effectively, and that’s how loads of our what are actually thought-about invasive vegetation in lots of areas that got here from different nations, that was one in all their conventional type of edges, why they grew to become so profitable after they got here right here, and equally the place our vegetation went to different locations as vegetation have moved world wide, is that they often leaf out before the native stuff [laughter].

Nancy: Yeah, precisely.

Margaret: And that’s an awesome… You’re proper, that’s an awesome… So on the lookout for these sorts of qualities, however not in an invasive clearly, on the lookout for these sort of qualities that may assist to stifle the undesirable. I see. In order that’s what you have been sort of doing.

Nancy: Yeah. Precisely.

Margaret: As a result of a few of these weeds that you just’ve talked about, they’ve totally different ways for succeeding as weeds. I imply, the stiltgrass, it’s a warm-season annual. It makes loads of seeds per seedhead, loads. They will reside within the soil for 3 to 5 years and keep viable. And there’s loads of qualities that make it succeed and outsmart us.

Nancy: [Laughter.] Proper, which it’s a must to admire.

Margaret: Effectively, weeds, sure, they’re unimaginable. Garlic mustard has so many ways. It’s allelopathic; it exudes a chemical into the world the place it grows that deters different vegetation from getting a foothold. It’s obtained an awesome deep root. It comes up early. It’s a prodigious sower of seeds. These are these ways, and so how will we one higher them? Proper? Is that what you’re on the lookout for, vegetation which might be even “smarter”?

Nancy: Yeah, or at the least they’ll maintain their very own in order that in the event you clear an space, and then you definitely replant instantly, you possibly can at the least get a leg up that manner. So loads of them, it gained’t truly outcompete by themselves, however possibly along with different ones, they’ll maintain the bottom from additional encroachment, and so…

Margaret: Proper. And also you’re nonetheless weeding. It’s not that you just’re not pulling out garlic mustard, for example, or in some circumstances, such as you mentioned, utilizing a canopy like cardboard or one thing to stifle issues. It’s not that you just’re not doing that, it’s that you just’re not solely counting on that.

Nancy: Precisely. And the golden ragwort is fairly distinctive in that. I did nonetheless weed simply the primary yr or two, after which I didn’t should. It simply just about does this excellent takeover. However yeah, among the different ones, it takes longer to maintain hunting down, however it’s much less and fewer every year, and that’s so rewarding.

Margaret: Proper, and these are in areas… So describe golden ragwort to us as a plant. What does it seem like? What does it do? What’s its… [Packera aurea, above, from Wikimedia; photo by Derek Ramsey.]

Nancy: Packera aurea, and I feel obovata additionally up the place you might be is native, has roundish leaves that develop densely collectively. The vegetation root underground actually rapidly, however then in addition they unfold by seed. And so it’s a phenomenal floor cowl all season and sometimes all yr. And I find it irresistible as a result of the birds like to forage in there, too, and the rabbits make nests in there. And there’s a specialist bee that goes to the flower, which is possibly a few foot tall, and shiny yellow, and simply lights up the entire place in spring.

And it’s actually fairly with vegetation like phloxes and purple… What’s it? Phlox subulata and stolonifera, and the woodland Phlox divaricata. What I began doing with it, too, is planting it below timber. I’ll begin there below the redbuds, below the chokeberries. Once I do tree cages, once I plant new timber now, I put loads of groundcovers like that. Or typically I’ll even put larger vegetation like Rudbeckia in there with the tree cage, as a solution to inexperienced mulch it as a substitute of mulching it.

Margaret: So proper from the beginning, once you’ve disturbed… In an effort to plant a tree, you’ve disturbed the soil, you might be instantly planting some groundcover to be with that new tree.

Nancy: Sure.

Margaret: Yeah. So not letting that… As a result of what does a weed love greater than something? It loves open floor, disturbance. Proper? So that you’re making an attempt to get forward of it. Do you’ve got different perennials in the way in which that the Packera, the golden ragwort, do you’ve got others that you’ve got discovered have served this sort of position notably?

Nancy: Yeah. Effectively, the sedges [Carex], among the sedges, they don’t develop fairly as vigorously, however fairly vigorously, just like the blue sedges and the Appalachian sedge. After which I like issues like tufted hair grass [Deschampsia cespitosa], which is evergreen, and that basically holds the bottom in opposition to something. I don’t know if that’s the rationale, or if there are different causes.

Margaret: Effectively, leaving any clean house at floor stage, clearly… If we go and we pull out all our garlic mustard, and we depart a clean canvas [laughter], what’s going to occur? Who is aware of what’s coming subsequent? Extra garlic mustard after which who is aware of what else? So we now have to be there. It’s the one-two punch. Proper? We’ve to be there with it. Proper, proper.

Nancy: Proper. So relying on the place you might be, a few of them are such nice host vegetation and pollinator vegetation, too, like golden Alexander for the black swallowtail and-

Margaret: The Zizia. Is that Zizia?

Nancy: Yeah. As soon as that will get going, wild basil, wild ginger in fact and the shade.

Margaret: I used to be simply going to say the Asarum canadense. I feel the wild ginger is likely one of the nice native groundcovers. And it’s, for me, once more, even in a really chilly zone, and it’s not evergreen, just like the European model of Asarum is a extra evergreen leaf, however it’s thick, dense, at floor stage, controllable. It’s not prefer it goes loopy and takes over your complete place, however it actually makes an awesome groundcover that not loads of stuff will get into. So when you have, as you say, below timber or a shrub border or one thing the place you need the bottom… You don’t need to should be weeding 50 instances a yr in that space. You need a dense groundcover to shut the bottom and now have some useful parts to it, options to it. Yeah. That’s an awesome one, I feel.

Nancy: Yeah. And I keep in mind studying this tip from Barry Glick at Sunshine Farm in West Virginia, about planting wild ginger below pawpaw timber, as a result of they’ve the identical or comparable pollinators, flies.

Margaret: Oh, fascinating [laughter].

Nancy: So I went all the way down to transplant some below the pawpaws this yr as a result of I’ve been that means to do it for years. And I put the pawpaws as naked roots a few years in the past, far down within the subject, excellent into the turfgrass. And through the years there was garlic mustard below there and stiltgrass. And this yr once I went to place the ginger, I noticed that it’s now virtually all violets [above, at Nancy’s]. In order that’s one other very nice recruitable one you don’t even should plant. And I suppose as a result of the pawpaws shaded out the turf fully and the opposite stuff, it’s simply all violets now below them.

Margaret: And people are such… And I feel lots of people nonetheless even consider them as weeds. They usually’re such helpers, they usually’re such supporters of all of the fritillary butterflies I feel use them as host vegetation. They usually’re so charming and hard, however it’s like we now have to recondition the way in which we glance. However particularly in these, it’s going to be a little bit looser, loads looser. But it surely’s additionally going to be functioning and supporting to useful bugs and different animals. And it’s going to hopefully, like we’re speaking about, maintain out among the actually undesirable issues like that mugwort, like that stiltgrass, just like the actually unmanageable ones which might be nonnative and massive bother.

Nancy: Proper.

Margaret: So another perennials that you just’ve discovered which might be doing a superb job at type of… Once more, I shouldn’t say out-competing, however serving to take up house, and preserving issues, which have the energy [laughter] to withstand among the different…

Nancy: Effectively, I really like elephant’s foot [above, at Nancy’s]. Do you’ve got that?

Margaret: I don’t assume I do know what that frequent name-

Nancy: Elephantopus carolinianus.

Margaret: No.

Nancy: And there’s one other one, too, associated, and effectively that could be a actually dense groundcover, too, not all yr, however all season. And so it actually holds the bottom, and it has these little small purple flowers that buckeyes and different little butterflies love within the late season. And that’s good for shade or half shade. I’ve it even in a good quantity of solar, half solar, too.

After which lyreleaf sage [above, at Nancy’s] is so fairly, and it simply goes anyplace. You may’t even stroll on it. It gained’t flower as tall, however…

Margaret: I don’t assume I do know that frequent title, both.

Nancy: That’s Salvia lyrata and-

Margaret: Lyrata, O.Okay.

Nancy: It has the cutest little leaves. And truly that’s sort of evergreen. It’s type of ever-purple. It sort of disappears. You may’t actually see it very effectively, however it will probably maintain the leaves all yr typically.

White wooden aster, that tends to get browsed in sure spots, but when it’s protected with different vegetation round it-

Margaret: Effectively, the asters, all of them right here get browsed, and even the woodchucks and the rabbits love them, for example, as a result of I don’t have deer; I’ve a fence. However what I consider it, once I see that taking place, as a substitute of getting hysterical, I simply assume it’s the Chelsea chop. Have you learnt what I imply?

Nancy: [Laughter.] Proper.

Margaret: It’s that pruning method. It’s being reduce in spring when it’s partway grown. So it’s going to delay flowering a little bit bit and make it flower barely shorter dimension. However the factor I’m glad you talked about because the white wooden aster, and actually to me, even different native asters. Early in my backyard profession, I used to tug them out of areas. They might sew in, and I might pull them out as a result of they appeared weedy. I imply, that was my mindset 30-plus years in the past. And now I’m grateful that they’re doing that, just like the violets. And I feel it’s an necessary… You’re simply making me assume it’s an necessary thoughts shift that we now have to do is to make pals with and-

Nancy: Sure.

Margaret: …and recognize. Yeah.

Nancy: That’s completely it.

Margaret: What about northern sea oats [above at Nancy’s with ostrich fern, another native choice]? Have you ever discovered that to be a superb helper or what’s…

Nancy: I really like that. Yeah.

Margaret: Chasmanthium latifolium, the northern sea oats grass.

Nancy: Yeah. And truly, I don’t learn about the place you might be, however right here individuals assume oftentimes, “Oh, it’s too aggressive.” However that’s one thing that in the event you’ve obtained it with loads of different natives, and it grows alongside sure ones, or it even protects them, I’ve discovered. We’ll see what occurs through the years. However I’ve had it for fairly some time now, and I’ve some perennials blended in that do get browsed now, like wild bergamot and even Echinacea and stuff, and they’re doing effectively among the many sea oats.

The ocean oats additionally actually assist with the Japanese stiltgrass. Now I feel that some individuals, it’s very onerous to inform the distinction till you get to know them after they first come up. The ocean oats and the stiltgrass can look fairly comparable [laughter].

You simply should do it for a little bit bit and then you definitely get a watch for it. However that together with a local grass, nimblewill [Muhlenbergia schreberi], which I really like. It’s simply very thin-leaved and a shade grass, and it’s very maligned, too, on-line by mainstream sources and garden specialists and stuff. But it surely’s a extremely good one for holding the bottom additionally in opposition to stiltgrass. And so I really like these vegetation. And sea oats is a bunch plant, too, for some butterflies and moths, yeah.

Northern sea oats, upland or inland sea oatsMargaret: And it does have probably the most unimaginable seedheads of something I’ve ever seen [above, at Margaret’s]. They seem like a flattened pine cone or one thing. It’s like these simply unimaginable… They usually sort of tackle a coppery shade or one thing within the fall. It actually is sort of a superbly constructed architectural little creature.

Nancy: Yeah [laughter]. It truly is. And within the wind it makes it fairly sound.

Margaret: Sure. I feel after we did a current “New York Instances” story about your “Wildscape” guide and so forth collectively, and I feel you talked about one thing, blue mistflower. Is that… And also you additionally talked about false nettles. Inform me about these two. Have these been ones which were serving to you with this battle?

Nancy: So yeah, blue mistflower truly got here up in a sneezeweed plant that I purchased at an area native nursery right here. And so I by no means deliberately purchased it, though I might have finally, I’m positive. But it surely appears sort of like hardy ageratum. It’s actually stunning purple fuzzy flowers. And it tends to not be browsed by deer. I feel it has some alkaloids in it that they don’t discover tasty. So it seeded right here from that unique pot, after which it will definitely went out into the sphere the place the stiltgrass is, and it’s been making ever widening circles within the stiltgrass. It doesn’t appear to thoughts rising amongst it in any respect.

Margaret: Attention-grabbing.

Nancy: Yeah. So I simply go and I pull round it, and I do this with the false nettle, too. It does the identical factor. And yearly if I simply pull some extra round it, then these issues can reseed into the naked spots that I make and carry on spreading.

Margaret: So the false nettle is Boehmeria, I feel. And I feel the blue mistflower is Conoclinium [above, with Rudbeckia, at Nancy’s].

Nancy: Sure, C. coelestinum. Sure.

Margaret: Coelestinum, yeah. I at all times had bother with that one as a result of it has so many vowels in [laughter]. I may by no means say each the genus and the species have so many…

So if this sounds interesting to individuals, to regulate how they see some vegetation just like the violets and the asters and depart a few of them. And once more, letting, or both including or letting some vegetation just like the false nettles and the blue mistflower and so forth, get getting in a patch of one thing that’s troublesome. After which hunting down the troublesome stuff round it and letting the nice factor take extra territory.

In addition to your guide, moreover “Wildscape,” are there different locations to do homework about this or to be taught extra about this? Did you employ subject guides or another suggestions within the final couple months? Yeah.

Nancy: So whereas I used to be exploring these items, I feel Larry Weaner got here out together with his guide “Backyard Revolution” [affiliate link] just a few years in the past, and he talks about this in that guide considerably. After which “Planting in a Put up-Wild World,” in fact, talks about utilizing natives to carry the bottom and such. And so-

Margaret: Thomas Rainer and Claudia West’s guide, O.Okay. Good strategies. Thanks.

Nancy: And I feel one of many issues through the years that I’ve simply discovered is that folks get actually excited by this matter. I wrote one thing on my web site in like 2016 or one thing, and the quantity of feedback on there was unimaginable in comparison with different issues that I’ve written.

And it’s as a result of individuals both need to know what’s going to outcompete one thing or they need to share their experiences. And so I’ve simply discovered loads from dialog with different individuals, too. And I began experimenting with what they advised me and together with their stuff in my handouts and such. And shrubs and timber are actually necessary to this too, serving to to shade issues out or the suckering shrubs, as a result of we now have an issue with among the invasive suckering shrubs and so-

Margaret: We’ll have to speak about this once more once more,as a result of we’ve run out of time. However I so recognize, Nancy Lawson, your taking time immediately to hitch me to go a little bit deeper into this matter. [Below, a seating area in Nancy’s wildscape.]

extra from nancy lawson

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MY WEEKLY public-radio present, rated a “top-5 backyard podcast” by “The Guardian” newspaper within the UK, started its 14th yr in March 2023. It’s produced at Robin Hood Radio, the smallest NPR station within the nation. Pay attention regionally within the Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA)-Litchfield Hills (CT) Mondays at 8:30 AM Jap, rerun at 8:30 Saturdays. Or play the June 12, 2023 present utilizing the participant close to the highest of this transcript. You may subscribe to all future editions on iTunes/Apple Podcasts or Spotify or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts right here).

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